Camping is our primary lodging on this adventure for a few reasons: be in nature, we love to camp, and save money. Once you’ve made the initial investment for gear (or a van/RV), camping can be an inexpensive way to travel or get away for the weekend. However, there are a lot of expenses you may not think of that can add up quick. We’ve camped at just about every type of site through the years. We’ve found that these 5 Ways to Save Money Camping are easy to implement without sacrificing the experience.
1. Propane Tanks
We love our coffee and breakfast in the morning. Overall we do a lot of cooking while camping. When we don’t use the campfire we use my classic Coleman stove that I’ve had for over 20 years. It’s a bit beat up but it’s dependable. However, one of the things I’ve always disliked about it is the green 1 pound disposable propane tanks. First off, these tanks produce a lot of trash and have been filling up dumpsters in campgrounds across the country. I’ve seen some recycling bins exclusively for disposable tanks but they are few and far between. Also, these tanks are $3 to $4 each. This adds up fast!
I purchased an 11 pound refillable propane tank and adapter hose. There is an initial investment, but currently 11 pounds of propane is only about $6 vs $44 for 11 individual tanks. The 11 pound tank lasted us 5 weeks of daily use before it needed to be filled. It actually paid for itself by its 2nd fill.
I may get a little more excited about firewood than most people. Mostly because camping isn’t camping without a campfire. S’mores, popcorn, pudgy pies, and foil packets are regular eats around the campfire. Not to mention a campfire is the centerpiece for laughter and conversation. Personally, I have a hard time purchasing firewood for $5 to $6 per bundle. Also, these bundles are of varied quality. Some are small and burn so quickly you only have 1 to 1 ½ hours of decent fire time. Sometimes the bundles are not seasoned. If you are burning green wood you’ll probably get smoked out. During a 3 day weekend you could easily spend $30 on firewood.
To cut down on this expense, get yourself a hatchet or ax. Take a walk in the woods. Collect your own firewood. Most state and national parks and forests allow you to collect as much downed wood as you want. Even without a saw and ax you can usually find wood and break it down by hand enough to mix in with the bundle wood. This way if you do buy wood it may only be $5 or $10 for the weekend. It’s a little work, but 30 minutes will save you a bundle (pun intended).
Make your own food and bring it from home. This can’t be simpler. This may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve seen people leave their campsite and an hour later bring back a pizza or fast food. Also, while camp stores are nice for emergencies, they are very overpriced. Don’t waste your money! Plan your menu and buy enough food and snacks. If you bring too much you can always bring it home. Whether you want to have an easy dinner of hot dogs and chips or step-up your camping cuisine with Cajun Shrimp Boil Packets, preparing your own food is the way to go.
I also wanted to touch base on freeze dried meals. Recreation Stores (I won’t mention any names) sell these for $8 to $12 for a 2 serving entrees. When backpacking these can be light and convenient options for food. However, if you are solely eating these 2 times a day, it adds up fast. Check out the book Backpack Gourmet. It is full of lightweight recipes you can prepare, dehydrate at home and bring to the trail or to campsite.
One of our favorite recipes is black beans and rice. It makes 12 large servings you can portion into 6 Ziploc bags. That’s the same amount as 6 freeze dried packets. You can make meals ahead of time and freeze them. These 12 servings cost about $3.00 to prepare–less than half the price of one freeze dried meal.
Campgrounds can vary significantly in price. Many campgrounds provide running water and showers. Some private campgrounds even offer wifi, laundry, and a pool. These campgrounds are most likely on the high end of campground pricing. They are also very family oriented. It really matters what you’re looking for. If you can rough-it, you can really save. National and State Forests have very reasonable established campgrounds with fire pits, picnic tables, water source, and pit toilets. With a little research you can also find tons of places that offer free camping. Some of our favorite camping sites have been free. Check out freecampsites.net or research dispersed camping policies within state or national forests you’ll be traveling around. You may find your next favorite (and free) weekend escape.
5. Take Advantage of Free Activities
There seems to be something around every corner you can spend money on unless you remove yourself completely from society (which is pretty fun sometimes). Rentals, guided tours, boat rides, etc. are available at many recreation areas. These activities are fun and easy options for groups and families to spend time together, but also come with a price tag. If you are looking to save a little money take advantage of the free activities in the area. History and amazing geography could be right around the corner. Many campgrounds have tons of hiking trails leading to amazing destinations like waterfalls, overlooks, or historical sites. Some are near lakes and rivers that are a perfect place to hang out and spend the day.
If a contingency plan is needed because the weather doesn’t cooperate, games are always a great option to keep a group entertained and active. Before you head out to camp research those hikes and beaches. Pack up the games. Plan your trip with some or all free activities. You’ll be surprised how fun and relaxing it is.
Really there is no right or wrong way to camp. You need to do what is comfortable and fun for you. We’ve really been focusing on what is important to make a camping experience enjoyable for us, and how to save money doing it. We hope these 5 Ways to Save Money Camping can do that for you.
Do you have any money saving tips for camping? Do you have any camping tips for new and seasoned campers?